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Suzanne Breen: Boris is favourite, but DUP trust in him hit by U-turn on May deal


Theresa May with Arlene Foster, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and Nigel Dodds

Theresa May with Arlene Foster, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and Nigel Dodds


Theresa May with Arlene Foster, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and Nigel Dodds

All the runners and riders in the Tory leadership race are vying for the DUP's endorsement.

While it won't play the kingmaker role it does in Parliament, its view on who inherits Theresa May's crown is significant, given that the Government needs DUP votes to stay in power.

The party won't publicly voice an opinion, but it clearly has private preferences. Boris Johnson was the star turn at the DUP annual conference but the party's trust in him has plummeted since.

Not only did Boris blast Mrs May's withdrawal agreement at the DUP gathering in November, he pledged in March to oppose it in the Commons. Two days later he voted for it.

Despite the DUP's disapproval of Theresa May, it recognised that she truly believed in the Union and was driven by a sense of public duty, not personal ambition.

The party knows that Boris isn't at heart a conviction politician, and his only real loyalty is to himself.

While the DUP would regard that as dangerous, it doesn't want a Corbyn government and will recognise that Johnson's public profile and charisma make him possibly the only person who can rescue the Tories from their current unpopularity.

The DUP regards the second leadership favourite, former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, as very principled over his opposition to the withdrawal agreement. The party believes he has the expertise and ability to genuinely renegotiate a deal with Brussels. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt is highly regarded by the DUP for his work on persecuted Christians across the world - and it trusts him.

Yet he was a Remainer, and the DUP surely feels the next Prime Minister must be a Brexiteer.

Despite Michael Gove's record of criticising the Good Friday Agreement, his betrayal of Boris during the 2016 Tory leadership race, and the Environment Minister's failure to resign from Cabinet over the withdrawal agreement, haven't impressed Arlene Foster's party.

The MP it most wanted as Prime Minister isn't standing. Former Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson was friends with the DUP long before its MPs' votes mattered. He's backing Boris, and the party will hope he lands a key Cabinet role if Johnson wins.

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